My friendship with Val was about to peak
We would meet in person after all!
So, when I left off with the previous installment in the story, I had decided to cancel my trip to the USSR because I met Feyma. I would travel to the Philippines instead, meet Feyma and possibly marry her.
I did feel bad about not being able to go to the USSR and meet Val, but without a doubt, it was more important to me to meet Feyma. Still, I really wanted to meet my Soviet friend in person.
I got a message from Val
During the first half of 1990, I was in contact with Val one day, as I was almost every day. I had already told him that I would have to cancel my trip to see him. But, on this particular day, he had some good news for me. Val told me that he would be making a trip to the USA soon. I was pretty shocked because it was not common for a citizen of the Soviet Union to travel to the United States in those days. More on that later.
Val told me that he would be going first to Virginia, then a couple stops in the middle of the country, and finally, he would be in Los Angeles. I lived in Washington State at the time. Los Angeles was just a short flight away, about 2 hours. I also happened to look at the calendar, and during Val’s visit, there was a “Hamfest” in Los Angeles during the time he would be there. A “Hamfest” is a Ham Radio convention, festival, whatever you want to call it. It is sort of a trade show type thing where lots of companies show off their latest ham gear. I figured that if I flew down to LA to meet Val, I would stay at the hotel where the hamfest was being held (very near the airport), we could go visit the hamfest, and spend time visiting and getting to know each other.
I laid out my plans to Val
After getting all of the information together, the next time that I talked with Val, I told him all about what I had come up with. He was all for it, and I made my reservations and such. I was really looking forward to having a great weekend getting to know my friend in person.
Going to LA
My flight to LA was scheduled to land early, something like around 8 AM as I recall. Val was scheduled to land in the early afternoon. So, I just spent time looking around at the hamfest, but the thing that was on my mind was meeting my friend when he got there.
Val was traveling with a group, they were staying at the same hotel where the hamfest was held, coincidentally. So, they had transportation from the airport terminal to the hotel all pre-arranged. Val and I arranged to meet in the hotel lobby at a certain time. So, when the time got close I waited for him, and sure enough, he showed up!
When Val arrived we were very happy to meet, and we exchanged a few words. I asked Val if he would like to go to the hamfest and look around. He said that he would prefer if he and I just went out for a walk around the area and we could talk more freely if he was not around his group. I thought that would be great. Today, it has been a long time since I visited the LAX area, but I expect it is still the same, a lot of businesses, warehouses, and such in that general area.
As I mentioned in my first article on this topic, all of this occurred during the Gorbachev days. Gorbachev ruled from 1985 until 1991. Since this meeting took place in 1990, glasnost and perestroika were well established at this time, and the Soviet people were already experiencing expanded freedoms.
As we walked the LAX area, after talking about some personal things, an early topic of conversation was Soviet politics. Val brought up the topic, I did not feel it would have been proper for me to open that discussion, but he had no problem bringing it up.
Val asked if I knew who Gorbachev was, and I said “Yes, of course.” Next, he said, “did you know that Gorbachev is a believer?” I asked what he meant. He said “a religious believer”. I told him I did not really know that, but I was not surprised. At first, Val was very careful with his words, it seemed he did not really want to tell me that he also believed in God, seemed he wanted to see my reaction about Gorbachev being a believer. As we talked he opened up more and more about that. It seemed that he was very happy that Gorbachev had opened up more religious freedom in the USSR.
Soon, another topic came up, and this topic seemed to be of prime interest to Val. He said, “Bob, I have been seeing a lot of amazing things since I got to the USA, is it all real?” I asked him to give me examples of the things he was talking about. Immediately he said, “Bob, in Virginia, they took us to a grocery store. They had so many things there. The fruits and vegetables were so abundant. If you go to a grocery store is it like this, or did they just set this up so my group and I would be impressed?” I laughed and told him that it was all real. As we walked further we came upon a grocery store, and I took him inside. He was still amazed, particularly by the abundance of the produce. I took him to some convenience stores too, which shocked him.
We had done a lot of walking, probably at least 5 miles. It was a warm day, and we were both thirsty, so we stopped in a fast food place. As I recall, it was a Carl’s Jr. These days it is common to go into a fast food joint and you are given an empty cup when you order, you go over to the fountain and fill your drink with whatever selection you desire. You can even refill it if your cup is empty. Most people even top off their drink before leaving so they’ll have a drink for the road. Back in 1990, though, this was a fairly new thing, I had only seen it a couple of times when I went to LA.
So, we were not hungry but decided to just get a drink. We ordered, and they gave us empty cups. I could tell that Val was confused and slightly upset. He was thirsty, an empty cup would do him no good. LoL, I explained to Val that we would not proceed over to the drink area and fill our cups. I asked him what he wanted to drink and he said “Coke, of course!” It was obvious that he had enjoyed Coke before. I asked if he wanted ice, and I filled his drink for him. We went and sat down at a table. We must have stayed there and talked for 2 or 3 hours.
After a while, I still had about half of my drink. Val kept lifting his cup to his mouth and pretending like he was drinking, although I could see that his cup was empty. I think he just didn’t want me to feel that I had to hurry with my drink. I told him “You know, you can get a refill on that drink?” Val’s response was classic. He said, “No, I will leave some Coke for others.” Huh? I chuckled and told him that there was plenty of Coke, if it ran out they would just bring another tank and hook it up. He asked, “do you mean they have more supply, everyone can have Coke?” I said yes. He said that in the Soviet Union, at least in the area where he lived, the supply of soft drinks was limited, and when it ran out, it may be out for days before more came. He did not want to drink too much, because there were others who should enjoy it too. He was embarrassed to get up and go get a refill, so I took his cup over and filled it up for him. I think he had about 3 refills that day.
Our conversation took many turns. We talked more about politics. We talked about our families, our jobs, and just about everything you could imagine. Many things Val told me were real eye-openers, and I suspect that he heard some things from me that shocked him.
A Gift from Val
After our sit down at Carl’s Jr., we walked back to the hotel. When we got there, Val asked if I could come to his room, he had a gift for me. I was surprised and agreed to go to his room. I also brought Val a gift, but I don’t remember what it was.
We sat down in his room, and Val took out a piece of luggage and took out something for me. It was in a paper bag, as I recall. I opened it and there was a small brown bottle, it looked like a bottle of cough syrup, but the packaging and label were more “old fashioned” looking. The writing on the bottle was blue and green, and of course, it was written in Russian. I asked Val what it was. He told me that it was a medicine that could cure every sickness. He told me that it could even cure AIDS. Of course, I knew that there was no cure for AIDS, and there was also no kind of medicine that cured everything. But, I just accepted his gift graciously.
Val told me to open the medicine and try some (apparently you rubbed it on your skin), so I did open it. I smelled it after opening the bottle, and I recognized the smell immediately. It was Pine Oil. But, Val really believed in it, so I didn’t say anything more than “Thank you”.
I kept that bottle of Pine Oil for many years, put it on a shelf in my home office as a memento of a great friendship. I had to get rid of it when I moved to the Philippines.
After our meeting in his hotel room, I never saw Val again. We talked on the radio more, but as I said in the first article, I lost interest in Ham Radio after I got married, so since around January 1991 (when Feyma arrived in the USA), I have not had any contact with Val.
There is still one more story
Even though we have had no contact for more than 30 years, there is still one more part to the story, and I will tell you about that in my next article.
Articles in this series: